February 21, 2012

Pronouncing "-ough"

In standard English the word-ending "-ough" is pronounced in eight different ways in common English words:

1. /oh/ as in "though"
2. /aw/ as in "bought" or "ought"
3. /oo/ as in "through"
4. /ow/ as in "bough" or "slough" (this means a muddy ditch or miry hole)
5. /uff/ as in "enough" "slough" (a verb meaning to shed one's skin, or the related noun)
6. /off/ as in "cough"
7. /up/ as in "hiccough", although I would spell it "hiccup"
8. /uh/ as in some British pronunciations of "borough" and "thorough" (/buruh/ and /thuruh/, where Americas would end with /oh/)

There's a few others:

9. /ahhk/ or perhaps
10. /ahhg/: George G. Vasey's 1862 Classical English Spelling-Book suggests these two unusual ones for the dog called a "shough" (or "shock")--"These Curs are much set by with Ladys, who . . . trim of all the hair of their hinder parts."* There's no pronunciation for this word in my big dictionaries, but alternative spellings suggest two, reading as /shock/ or /showg/.

As well as "shough," a few more are suggested in Jeff Aronson's sidebar, "When I Use a Word, Ough Ough," British Medical Journal (July 20, 2002), p. 160:

11. /ug/ in "oughly," an archaic spelling of "ugly"

12. /ok/, in certain Scottish words like "hough" and "lough," and

13. /ookh/ (with the glottal ending of "loch" or "ach"), as in "sough" (in one of its homonyms, a rushing or murmuring sound) or "through-stane" (the stone or a slab over a tomb).

The Oxford English Dictionary often traces words with these spellings to Middle English or Old English words that ending in the letter ȝ or "yogh," that sounded like /y/ or something like the ending in Scottish "loch."

* Randle Holme, The academy of armory; or, A storehouse of armory and blazon · 1st edition, 1688

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